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Database | Narrative | Archive

Seven interactive essays on digital nonlinear storytelling
edited by Matt Soar & Monika Gagnon

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Aesthetics | Politics

If there exists a connection between art and politics, it should be cast in terms of dissensus…
Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics – Jacques Rancière
Like many artists, I am troubled by a question – one that has become a kind of refrain – “what is the political efficacy of art?” This is not a question of criteria for the political evaluation of works of art -- their correctness, their radicalism, their affective power or critical acuity. The question that troubles me goes beyond interrogating the power of representation. It is about the tensions and contradictions that emerge between the goals of theory and aesthetics and those of political activism. It is a question of how to re-imagine the political and the aesthetic, in tandem. This means setting aside common definitions of “politics” (localized in the state and reduced to the struggle for and maintenance of power), and of “art” (confined to the realm of the cultural and restricted from entering the space of power and law) and adopting, in their place, the lexicon of French philosopher Jacques Rancière where art and politics each consist in the “effects of equality that they stage.
Art and politics each define a form of dissensus, … if there is such thing as an 'aesthetics of politics’; it lies in a re-configuration of the distribution of the common through political processes of subjectivation. Correspondingly, if there is a politics of aesthetics, it lies in the practices and modes of visibility of art that re-configure the fabric of sensory experience.
Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics Jacques Rancière
Rancière is quite skeptical of “political art” and wary of what he calls its “schizophrenic movement” between the “museum and its ‘outside’”. But I am much less interested in Rancière’s analysis of the “politics of aesthetics (i.e. his “regimes” and his critique of contemporary movements) than I am in his definition of the political and how it can translate to a kind of art practice. It is what he allows art and politics to share – the notion of dissensus and the redistribution of the sensible – that I find useful.
The 'aesthetics of politics' consists above all in the framing of a we, a subject, a collective demonstration whose emergence is the element that disrupts the distribution of social parts, an element that I call the part of those who have no part...
Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics – Jacques Rancière
For Rancière what defines “politics,” is a particular kind of speech situation -- when those who are excluded from the political order or included in only a subordinate way, stand up and speak for themselves. For me, this defines the form of artistic work that I will call ‘database documentary’ or ‘idocs’. Through this form of practice I appropriate Ranciere’s formulation of politics and transpose it into the register of art, thus materializing a space of ‘dissensus’ – not a critique, or a protest, but a confrontation of the status quo with what it does not admit, what is invisible, inaudible and othered. I don’t wish to make claims of political efficacy (as commonly understood) for database documentary but instead, to identify and describe a genre and method that can function as ‘politics’ in Rancière’s terms – a politics that I believe has the potential to circumvent the intransigence of the state.
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